Mark Stephen is Sports Director of CHQR Radio in Calgary and has broadcast Calgary Stampeder games since 1996. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkonFootball.
Like all Canadian Football League teams, the Calgary Stampeders spend hours of time studying for their next opponent. Video is scrutinized, plans are drawn and the players are sent on the field with a heavily thought-out game plan tattooed into their minds.
But there is one opponent Calgary isn’t able to plan ahead for – the flu. Various Stampeders have been battling the bug this week, including veteran receiver Nik Lewis.
Lewis has been laid up all week, venturing from his Calgary home only for medical examinations at McMahon Stadium. He accompanied the team to Toronto, however, in the event he cannot play, the team brought rookie receiver Anthony Parker to Toronto as a backup.
Even Stampeders General Manager/Head Coach John Hufnagel has been touched by the bug.
"Hey, it's not fun," rasped Hufnagel, "but it's all part of the challenges of the long football season."
Flu aside, the Stampeders have some other challenges as they prepare for Friday night’s matchup. Their dramatic last-second loss to the BC Lions last week toppled the team from first to third in the West Division.
Because of the loss, they now have the same record as both Edmonton and BC, but they both sit ahead of the Stamps due to tie-breaking procedures.
The urgency of the situation was not lost on Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris. Following Tuesday's practice at McMahon, he gathered his offensive unit together for an impromptu end zone meeting.
"I spoke from the heart to the guys. We have just a few games left and we all have to get better," said Burris.
“I told them this is the most talented group of guys I'd played with but we have to be aware of what's at hand. I might only play a couple more years, who knows? So we have to get it going,” he added.
“If that means staying later and watching some video or whatever that's great, I'm all for that."
Heading into Week 16, Burris is in reach of a personal milestone, needing just 186 passing yards to move into sixth all-time in league history. His yardage total would surpass that of former Stampeder, Doug Flutie.
Burris will once again be operating behind a revised offensive line. Third-year guard Steve Myddleton was placed on the nine-game injured list after suffering a shoulder injury in the B.C. game. Jon Gott will slide into his spot on the line.
The team has also placed fullback/special teamer Tim St. Pierre on the nine-game list with an elbow injury. Receiver Ken-Yon Rambo will miss another game this week as he tries to heal up an Achilles injury.
However, the Stampeders do have Robert (Hammer) McCune back in the lineup following a successful rehab after knee surgery. He will suit up on the defensive line, in place of Charleston Hughes.
Their opponents, the Toronto Argonauts may be a non-playoff team in 2011, but one of their three wins this season did come over the Stampeders on Opening Day. Had the Stampeders been able to hang on for that victory, they may not have been in the playoff knot they are currently in.
Calgary will also try to delay Toronto receiver Jeremaine Copeland's ascension to the 10,000-yard club. Copeland needs just 90 receiving yards to become just the 14th player in league history to reach that plateau.